LEGAL GUIDE
Written by attorney Luke A Shipley | Jan 8, 2013

How to Help Your Lawyer Prepare a Great Custody Case

Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Custody

Custody- it’s a scary sounding word, It probably makes you think of horror stories from TV and a friend of a friend where people’s lives were destroyed in a custody battle. You’re probably wondering how much mud will be slung and what deep, dark secrets might be revealed in this fight, if you are, relax there is good news. In the past, parents battled over who had “custody" and who got “visitation". That kind of a set up made custody fights nasty and gave parents the incentive to win by cutting the other person down. That’s all different now.

Tennessee has finally wised up and there isn’t any such thing as “custody and visitation’ anymore. Now we have “co-parenting time", even the name is friendlier. Courts now go on a presumption that parents should have as close to a 50-50 split as possible. The parent who gets more than 50% of the time is called the “primary residential parent" which is just legalese for “this person has more than 182.5 days of co-parenting time". Now, the incentive is to show what a great parent you are instead of showing what a bad parent the other person is. To do this, the law lays out 11 factors the courts should consider when determining who should be the Primary Residential parent and how co-parenting time is to be split up.Those factors are:

1. Love, affection and emotional ties between parent and child.

2. Disposition of parent to provide child with food, clothing, medical care, education and other necessary care.

3. The degree to which the parent has been the primary care-giver.

4. Importance of continuity in the child’s life, including the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment.

5. Stability of family unit of the parties.

6. Mental and physical health of the parent.

7. Home, school and community record of the child.

8. Reasonable preference of a child 12 years old or over.

9. Evidence of physical or emotional abuse of the child.

10. Character and behavior of any other person who resides in or frequents the home of a parent, and such person’s interactions with the child.

11. Each parent’s past and potential for future performance of parenting responsibilities, including the willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent.

Those factors are taken straight from Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-6-106, if you ever get bored and want to look. Since those are pulled straight from a statute, they can be a little confusing and they certainly don’t help you know how to put a case together. That’s where your lawyer comes in. By working with your lawyer, you can make a very strong case just by working down this list.

The first thing to know is what evidence is best. The absolute best evidence is a piece of paper. Things like letters, photos, cards, art, notes, emails, texts, etc are great. The next best piece of evidence is testimony by someone who doesn’t have a stake in the outcome- a teacher, a pastor, a doctor, etc. The third best piece of evidence is testimony from someone who cars how he case turns out- your family, your friends, etc. Finally, the last best piece of evidence is testimony from you. Now that you know what kind of evidence you need, let’s work through the factors one by one.

1. Love, affection and emotional ties between parent and child.

What pieces of paper can you bring? You can bring pictures of you and your kids, art the kids have made for you, and things like that. You can get teachers, church members, and babysitters to say how much you and the kids love each other. You can get your family and friends to say the same things. You can testify about what a big part of your life he kids are and how much they mean to you.

2. Disposition of parent to provide child with food, clothing, medical care, education and other necessary care.

This is tougher to have paper on, but not impossible. You can get receipts from clothes and food shopping; You can get medical records that show you have taken the kids to the doctor. You can get letters from teachers and PTA members that say how involved you are. If you aren’t involved, you can start now. Not only will this help the case, it gives you and your child something to bond over during a stressful time.

3. The degree to which the parent has been the primary care-giver.

Again, tougher to prove with documents but not impossible. Who changed diapers? Who gave baths and read stories? Who drove to and from school? Who met the teachers? Who went to the doctor? Who cooked? Be creative, are there pictures of you doing this? You can get records from the doctor showing that you took the children there. You can get people to testify how involved you were. Also, you can testify about what your child’s favorite food is, who their best friend is, what they like to watch on TV, what their show size is, etc. If you were heavily involved, you know this and the other parent may not. Again, this also gives you time to learn and be an even better parent. During this stressful time, make your child their favorite snack and play their favorite game with them. Preparing your case doesn’t have to be all work.

4. Importance of continuity in the child’s life, including the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment.

How long have you lived in the same home? Gone to the same church? How long have you been involved in community activities? Judges love stability in a child’s life. So bring lots of pictures, crafts the kids have made at church or school, brochures from extracurriculars, letters from people who talk about how long you’ve been involved and how stable you are.

5. Stability of family unit of the parties.

This one is pretty self explanatory. Try to bring things that prove what great, stable people you are. Pictures, letters, cards, awards, anything you can think of to show how great you and anyone else that will be around your kids a lot is.

6. Mental and physical health of the parent.

Not everyone is the picture of health, and that’s okay. You still need to tell us if you have any mental or physical health problems. Then, we work with you to get documentation to show that these problems are either managed or won’t affect your ability to be great parent. Simple as that. Bring us medical reports if you have medical problems, we can help you in proving they aren’t an issue.

This is one of the places where it’s okay to bring up some stuff about the other parent. Do they have any mental or physical health problems that would affect their ability to parent? Remember, it’s not about slinging mud, it’s about the safety of your child.

7. Home, school and community record of the child.

There is a lot of overlap with other factors here. Basically, bring things that show how great your kids are doing with you. Report cards, awards, pictures, letters from teachers and church members are all great ways to show this. Anything that shows how your kids are thriving and that you’re helping that happen is great.

8. Reasonable preference of a child 12 years old or over.

Even if your child is under 12, this can be helpful. The thing is, you can’t just up and ask. DON’T QUIZ YOUR KIDS!! You have to collect other things like if the kids are writing letters about it or if they seem like they enjoy spending time with you more or if they don’t want to go to the other parent’s house. This is delicate and if there is any factor where you should tread lightly and not worry about bringing in stuff, it’s here.

9. Evidence of physical or emotional abuse of the child.

Hopefully there won’t be anything to report here. If, sadly, there is bring doctor’s reports, pictures and any police reports.

This is another place where you want to bring in things the other parent has done. Again, not to sling mud but to protect your child.

10. Character and behavior of any other person who resides in or frequents the home of a parent, and such person’s interactions with the child.

Who hangs around a lot. The standard to sue when thinking about this is “would a an old, grumpy judge approve of this person being around my kids?" If the answer is “no" rearrange your social calendar. Tell us about who hangs around. We need to know. If it’s bad, we can help you fix us. A surprised lawyer isa lawyer who can’t help you though, so be up front.

11. Each parent’s past and potential for future performance of parenting responsibilities, including the willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent.

Here is where it’s so important not to sling mud or to try to cut the other parent down. You need to show that you have and will continue to be a good parent and that you have and will do your best to foster a god relationship between the kids and the other parent. Notes, emails, texts, facebook messages, tweets, and anything else that shows you working with the other parent are great. Keep a journal of how you’ve worked with the other parent. Note times that you’ve gone out of your way to be helpful and note times when the other parent hasn’t visited the kids when they were supposed to or stiffed you on expenses. Being nice really does go a long way, plus it’s good karma.

A custody case doesn’t have to be scary. By putting in the work that you just read aboutyou’ll have a happy lawyer who has everything they need to put on a good case, you’ll be lessstressedbecause you’re playing an active part in your case, you’ll save lots of money on yourlawyer’s bill, and you’ll get to spend a lot of quality time with your kids and reliving the great times you’ve had as a parent. Roll up your sleeves, dive in, and if you’d like more information visit www.heldlawfirm.com

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